It would be easy to view Brian Moynihan's promotion to chief executive as a consolation prize for Bank of America Corp., but a consensus is taking root that he is the right person to manage the company right now.
Unwilling candidates thwarted B of A's efforts to hire an outsider who would please shareholders and regulators seeking a change agent, and that led to Moynihan's ascent this week. Yet several analysts and investors argued that the company has sound underlying businesses and needs a process-minded executive like Moynihan to focus employees on the tasks at hand.
"Bank of America should not have been looking for a maverick," said William Fitzpatrick, an analyst at Optique Capital Management, which owns about 300,000 B of A shares. "A big-name guy probably isn't appropriate for them right now. Moynihan is not such a bad hire if he can get them back to blocking and tackling and keep them out of the news."
Moynihan sent a similar message in an interview Wednesday night and in a televised employee rally at the company's headquarters in Charlotte Thursday morning. He expressed support for the company's way of doing business, embraced the man he will succeed — the embattled Ken Lewis — and preached the importance of proper execution of existing strategy.
"We are all comfortable with the business model," he told American Banker. "The core businesses that we have arranged with hard work over the last five to 10 years are second to none. … The issue is, we have the best franchise, and we have been through a tough economic cycle. We just need our team to execute."
At the employee event, Moynihan made it clear that restoring the company's credibility, and his predecessor's reputation, will be at the top of his mind when he takes over Jan. 1. "Go home and enjoy the holidays, spend time with your families, and get some rest," he said. "Because when we come back, it's about executing for our leader, Ken Lewis."
Moynihan added humor to his introductory speech, vowing to keep Lewis close by if consultation is needed. "When he tries to go out and hide in Colorado and grow out his beard, I'll go find him," he said, referring to the well-circulated story about Lewis' return from his summer vacation just before he resigned.
That is not to say that it will be completely business as usual under Moynihan, 50, who advocates deepening customer relationships and in recent months has been adamant about improving the company's risk management. Since being tapped to lead the consumer and small-business banking operations in August, he has led efforts for more transparency in the company's credit card operations.
"We expect him to be very internally focused and ensure that recent acquisitions are fully integrated, customer penetration is deepened and its efficient structure is restored," Jason Goldberg, an analyst at Barclays PLC's Barclays Capital, wrote Thursday in a note to clients.
In many respects, his view of his new job could be very similar to how he assessed his role in retooling B of A's investment banking business after a management shake-up in October 2007.
"The job I have to do is to help manage and minimize volatility while keeping our focus on using the balance sheet and our capabilities in favor of our clients," he said in a June 2008 interview with American Banker.
Moynihan was given a tough task when he took over investment banking in 2007, particularly appeasing Lewis just months after the CEO angrily told investors that he had experienced "all the fun" he could stand in that business. Moynihan responded by cutting 18% of the unit's work force and exiting or downsizing businesses such as prime brokerage.
Bank of America again turned to him to oversee the integration of Merrill Lynch & Co. after the ouster of former Merrill chairman and CEO John Thain in January. On his watch, B of A was ahead of schedule on a $1 billion systems integration, stabilized attrition in the brokerage and investment banking ranks and found multiple channels for directing business between Merrill brokers and B of A's commercial bankers.
Alan Villalon, a senior research analyst at U.S. Bancorp's FAF Advisors, which owns roughly 9.5 million B of A shares, said the tasks at hand will keep Moynihan busy, though ultimately stakeholders will want to hear more about his long-term vision.
"We are more confident that he can be an executor," he said. "When you are a foot soldier, you are always carrying out someone else's vision. We will hear about his vision when he is ready to articulate it."
Moynihan declined to chart a long-term strategic course, contending that much of the company's fate rests with things outside his control. "The key for us is the economic recovery," he said in the interview. "If you look at what most people believe, the economy is getting better. And we have cleared a lot of things in the last few weeks," including last week's repayment of $45 billion in capital from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Retaining key personnel and winning back the trust of investors who had championed an outsider for CEO will have to be among his top priorities, some said.
"There will be some musical chairs before this thing is over, but he may be less threatening than someone from the outside," said Marshall Front, the chairman of the investment firm Front Barnett Associates LLC, which owns 350,000 B of A shares. "I don't foresee a mass exodus."
Moynihan expressed confidence that he could keep the team intact. "We all understand the mission we're on, and I am sure they will respond to my leadership."
The facts that Moynihan wanted the job and apparently did not demand a big guaranteed salary should also prove to be strong selling points with employees and outsiders, observers said.
Lewis drove that point home before formally announcing his successor at the rally Thursday. "Another unique characteristic about him is that he wanted the job," Lewis said. "That may fall into the category of 'be careful what you wish for.' "